September 9, 2011

Give and Go: John Fernandez

The former Army lacrosse captain, wounded in Iraq, asks us to remember the veterans

Since being wounded in Iraq, former Army lacrosse captain John Fernandez has become a key figure in the Wounded Warrior Project and would one day like to run a marathon.

© John Mecionis

by Corey McLaughlin |

Who is your favorite athlete?
The hardest worker on the team.

What's one thing you can't live without?
My family. I luckily get to spend a good deal of time at home and truly cannot live without my family.

Where did you go on your last vacation?
Vacation? What's that? With four young kids, sleep is a vacation and even that is rare.

What's one thing lacrosse really needs?
I really do not think that lacrosse needs anything. It is already an awesome sport, with great people playing it. What more do you need? As far a popularity of the sport's growing faster than any other. It really is the best sport out there, and people are really starting to recognize that.

It's 2021 — Where are you and what are you doing?
I am living on Long Island and see myself coaching my children in lax. I can't wait for the day when all of them can shoot with me in the backyard. We'll need a lot of backdrop nets.

What's been the proudest moment of your lacrosse career?
Really there were two. The first was when I was voted in as captain of the Army lax team. It was a great honor to be selected by my peers. The second was getting back on the field after being injured. It was great to know that I could again play the sport that I loved.

What's your favorite moment of a lacrosse game?
I would say that my favorite moment is when a defender crushes a guy, snags the ball, and hits a middie breaking upfield over the shoulder with a laser. Just to watch that middie truck down the field ahead of the know what comes next...four on three fast break situation. Just the anticipation of it is so exciting. Obviously, I am an attackman!

What's the goal or the mission of the Wounded Warrior program?
The mission of the Wounded Warrior project is to honor and empower wounded warriors. I am now a consultant for resource development. In my opinion, there is no other organization that is making as much of an impact in caring for our nations wounded service members. They honor wounded warriors through their everyday work, and empower them through the many programs and services that they offer. They make a difference in the lives of Wounded Veterans every day. I was hurt so early on in the war that I have had the privilege to watch them start and grow into an unbelievable organization.

How can this country do better with respect to war veterans?
This country has done an amazing job in recognizing that there is a difference between the war and the warrior. Regardless of what someone thinks of the war, the warriors, for the most part, have been supported. However, people must not forget. The war is not something that you see on the front page anymore, which is sad because Americans then forget that people are still sacrificing. We can do better. Among other discrepancies, returning veterans hold the highest unemployment rate. More than any other group in the country. This is sad because most veterans have done more in their life and had more responsibility than those twenty years their senior have had or ever will have.

How does lacrosse relate to being in the military, or being injured?
There's a similar mentality there, with playing any sport, and especially lacrosse. It's a tough sport, it's a team sport. It requires a team effort. There are a lot of similarities between working as a team in the military and being successful on the athletic field. A lot of analogies have been drawn between sports and being on the battlefield, so to speak, and that's for good reason. You're pushing yourself. General Douglas MacArthur once stated "On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that upon other fields on other days will bear the fruits of victory". Simply, all that means is the playing sports prepares you for war. Both on the playing field and battlefield one exhibits similar qualities. It also explains why there are so many analogies for war in sports.

What are your thoughts as the 10th anniversary of September 11 approaches?
Most people don't realize it's been 10 years. I was hurt in Iraq eight years ago. When I tell people I was hurt eight years ago, they say, "Wait, the first Gulf War?" I say, "No, that was like 20 years ago." People have no sense of time because the war is not something you see on the front page anymore. It's faded into the back of everyone's mind. But there are still men and women over there serving, getting injured, getting killed. It's something I try to highlight to put things in perspective, that we live relatively normal without thinking about it, yet there are men and women who are sacrificing every day. The anniversary of Sept. 11 brings that up, and highlights that it's already been 10 years. For the most part, people feel like it was yesterday.

Overtime (From John Paul, Michigan varsity men's coach): If you could have any job in the world, outside of the field you're in now, what would it be?
I started a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, and would love to take it in a solid direction. Through it, I consult and help fundraise, through events and sponsorships, for the Wounded Warrior Project. I also do motivational speaking and enjoy it a great deal. I'd like to pursue those things.

Double Overtime (from Will McDermott, Lexington, Pa.): Did you depend on lacrosse as a way of getting you into college?
I would be lying if I didn't say that I relied on lacrosse to open some doors. It surely helped me get into West Point Prep School, and then onto West Point. What I didn't know was how it would help me make it through college. At an academy you rely heavily on the support of your teammates. Without them and the sport I probably would not have made it through. Playing the sport also gave me the confidence to succeed in other things.

Double Overtime (from Michael Blake, El Dorado Hills, Calif.): What's number one on your bucket list?
This was probably not the case before I was injured, but running a marathon seems pretty important to me now. Though I haven't trained for it or have any plans to right now, I still have it as a goal for the future. I better jump on that one, because I'm not getting any younger.

Pose a question for our next subject.
How have you helped your country?

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